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OVER THE past four decades the attitude of the Catholic Church toward Judaism and the Jews has undergone a sea change On the theological level the decisive event was the Second Vatican Council which in 1965 finally lifted the collective charge of deicide against the Jewish people reversing the longstanding Augustinian view that the Jews would eternally bear the mark of Cain But of no less importance has been the current Popes personal commitment to reconciliation Since his election in 1978 John Paul II has repeatedly broken new ground in relations with the Jewish community becoming the first bishop of Rome to visit a synagogue in the Eternal City establishing diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the state of Israel and emphatically denouncing anti-Semitism Indeed no other Pope has had so direct an experience of Jewish life and suffering As a youth growing up in the small Polish town of Wadowice Karol Wojtyla as John Paul II was then named counted Jews among his closest friends and came to know the rhythms of Jewish observance and family life He would later witness firsthand the Nazi murder of Polands Jews Speaking of his hometown in 1994 John Paul II remarked that it was from there that I have this attitude of community of communal feelings about the Jews These recollections inform his repeated reminder to Catholics that Europes Jews were exterminated only for the reason that they were Jews--a bitter and sorrowful truth that seems to have become part of his most intimate credo Against this record of institutional progress and personal sympathy however must be set the Churchs less than felicitous handling of a range of issues related to the Holocaust The death camp at Auschwitz has been a particular source of contentiousness first with the establishment there of a Carmelite convent in the 1980s and more recently with the proliferation on its grounds of memorial crosses erected by militant local Catholics Both episodes have
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